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Jack London's To Build a Fire

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In Jack London's "To Build a Fire", Jack London tells a story of a single man and his dog traveling through a barren, snowy, wilderness in order to reach his friends in a distant town. "North and south, as far as his eye could see, it was unbroken white" (231). Along the way, however, this man must build fires so as to keep warm from the sub zero temperatures around him. "He was surprised, however, at the cold. It certainly was cold, he concluded, as he rubbed his numbed nose and cheek-bones with his mittened hand" (232). He created his first fire so that he can enjoy his lunch and keep warm while as not continue moving. He builds his second fire to dry his clothes after falling into a stream. With his final fire he attempts to regain the feeling in his extremities. This succession of fires shows the change in the mind-set of the man, from calm and relaxed for the first, to the desperate and hurried attempt with the last. ...read more.


For the moment the cold of space was outwitted" (236). Not only has he built a fire without much trouble and beaten back numbness, he has demonstrated skills that he may need to overcome his fight against nature. The first fire was built for comfort, it was not really necessary and was mainly there as an amenity. Unlike his first fire, his second was needed so he would be able to dry of his wet clothing after falling into a semi-frozen stream. The story stated, "At a place where there were no signs, where the soft, unbroken snow seemed to advertise solidity beneath, the man broke through. It was not deep. He wetted himself half-way to the knees before he floundered out to the firm crust" (236). Unlike having dry feet, where one could run and eventually bring the feeling back into them, with wet feet one could run for an eternity in sub-zero temperatures and never have the feeling return. "He knew there must be no failure. ...read more.


Well, he was bound to freeze anyway, and he might as well take it decently. With this new-found peace of mind came the first glimmerings of drowsiness. A good idea, he thought, to sleep off to death. It was like taking an anesthetic. Freezing was not so bad as people thought. There were lots worse ways to die." (243) His first fire- an amenity, his second fire- a necessity and, his third fire- a last desperate attempt to save his own life. This man's actions speak through the fires he builds. However the man's actions my have changed had he not been so caught up in his own thoughts of apparent "invincibility", and had heeded the warnings of the old-timer, "The old-timer had been very serious in laying down the law that no man must travel alone in the Klondike after fifty below... Those old-timers were rather womanish, some of them ..." (238). In the end, however, the man is forced into defeat and thus loses his life in his hard fought battle against nature. "You were right, old hoss you were right..." (244). ...read more.

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